For frustrated Dykstra, the night is a howling (lack of) success


PHILADELPHIA -- He stood in center field and bayed at the moon.

The Philadelphia Phillies' Lenny Dykstra, for whom losing is intolerable, could stand it no more. So in the light of a half-moon and the shell fire of Atlanta's six-run third inning last night, he threw back his head, opened his tobacco-gorged mouth wide, and howled to the heavens.

It was baseball's version of the barbaric yawp.

Lenny Dykstra is a throwback. Not to Pete Rose. To Java Man.

So he gave voice to his frustrations. It was not the long, mournful "wh-o-o-o-o-o-o" of the wolf asking the question: Anyone else out there? No, this was the obscenity-splattered serenade of the major-leaguer whose team is getting waxed.

Dude was visible last night by rocket's red glare. That's what the Braves were hitting early and often -- rockets.

For a time, Dykstra was hurrying over into left field to back up Milt Thompson, who looked like a man pursuing Frisbees in a high wind as the Braves peppered him with line drives.

Then Dykstra spent vexing moments swiveling his head to watch Braves home runs descend into various far reaches of the Veterans Stadium outer seats. The Braves clubbed four homers in the first five innings of their 14-3 victory.

In all, 1,406 feet worth of Braves long ball passed over Lenny Dykstra's head. He looked like a man caught in a meteor shower. And Lenny Dykstra stood in center field, watching those blue tracers under the half moon, and he seethed.

Bad enough that the Phillies were getting whip-sawed in the second game of the National League playoffs, but Dykstra, the igniter, hadn't been starting any fires.

This was more than a public flogging that the Phils were enduring last night. This loss was a momentum-breaker, and not just a series-squarer but a series-swinger.

The Phils had seized not only a one-game lead with their 4-3 win and 10th-inning rally the previous night, they had convinced themselves that they very much belonged here. (While they swagger in public, they do have occasional doubts in private.)

But now all of the doubts were back. Or, perhaps more accurately, reality had been re-introduced. The Braves have won 296 games in the last three regular seasons. It is foolishly and frightfully presumptuous to think they would go without a whimper of protest. Or, in Thursday night's case, without a bang of protest.

Lenny Dykstra knew this, of course, and he burned to do something, to salvage something from this beating that the Phils could take on the plane with them.

In his first at-bat last night, uncharacteristically, he offered at Greg Maddux's very first pitch and plopped it softy, harmlessly, into short center.

When he batted for the second time, the Phils were already buried, 8-0. It was early yet, only the third inning, still time to gnaw back, but runners were desperately needed.

Dykstra took two straight strikes -- he frequently does that on purpose because he thinks he concentrates better when he has two strikes. He lashed a ball foul, and then took strike three on the inside corner.

Or at least Frank Pulli deemed it a strike. Lenny Dykstra, whose night was already a mess, stood there for a moment and simmered. He is maddeningly difficult to strike out, but to do so without swinging, especially when he takes such pride in his eye, that was yet one more insult on a night already brimming with insults.

He walked slowly to the dugout, removing his batting helmet with the exaggerated deliberation of a man who is boiling and wants to convince everyone that he is still in control.

In the Phillies' dugout, players suddenly developed an intense interest in their shoes.

But at least the shelling stopped. The Braves quit scoring. Lenny Dykstra didn't have to stand out there chasing cannon fire.

When he came up again, the Phils had at least scrubbed that galling zero off their part of the scoreboard. There were two outs, but he tried to strike a spark, doing what he does best, coaxing the walk, annoying the pitcher. But nothing came of it. Mickey Morandini fanned, and the Phils were down seven.

Since leading off the NLCS on Wednesday night with a double, Lenny Dykstra hadn't had another hit. He'd had seven plate appearances, with two walks. His average was a shriveled and embarrassing .167.

But in the bottom of the seventh last night, Lenny Dykstra finally had a chance to rub sticks together. There were two on.

He swung and missed. He swung and missed. He swung and missed.

You tried to remember the last time you saw Lenny Dykstra offer at three pitches and not so much as draw a sliver of wood.

Lenny Dykstra usually sets the tone for the Phillies.

You watch him, you usually know how they're doing.

Last night was no different.

Fourteen to two? Only one thing to do -- throw back your head and howl some more.

And then, in the bottom of the ninth, with two out and no one on, in a ghost town of a stadium, Lenny Dykstra belted a long home run.

It helped. But only a little.

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